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GoTo Mom: Pay Your Way Out of Volunteering?

Some schools allow parents to pay their way out of volunteering. Others have introduced a lottery student to coerce parents to work for their schools. Both private and public schools rely heavily on parent volunteers, but are we always seeing the same fac

Should you pay your way out of helping at your children’s school?

That’s one option available at some schools, which gets mixed reviews from parents.

Kate will be writing a check for $225 this year since she won’t be able to make it to any of the volunteering activities for her son. The school mandates 15 hours of service from each family, and charges $15 an hour to get out of it.

The thing is, though, that Kate isn’t reluctant about helping out. In fact, she’d really quite like to get more involved. It’s just that she needs to be particularly mindful of her time as a single mother with a high-powered job that really doesn’t allow much time to spare. If, for instance, she were to help out at recess for 30 minutes, it would require her to leave her downtown DC office at least an hour in advance, and then take another hour to get back to the office. This at midday, when meetings can be convened at the last minute, or clients could decide they need to talk at length, right now.

“But I do want to go to see my son with his friends and see how he interacts,” Kate sighs. “I just don’t think recess monitoring, or doing cafeteria duty, is the right thing for me to take a whole day off, effectively.”

There is, of course, the hierarchy of volunteering tasks, with field trip chaperoning high on the list. At my daughter’s elementary school, the role is highly sought after no matter where the destination, and teachers are always forced to draw lots to figure out whose mom or dad can come along with the kids for a day-long adventure. What’s not to love about a special outing, see how your child interacts with his peers, and compare how he behaves to others in his age group.

Then there are the less glamorous but much-needed duties such as making thousands of photocopies for the school, cleaning up after events, and stuffing folders upon folders with information packets. Hopefully, your children go to a school where the PTA is active enough and volunteers – often the same ones who are almost always involved in one way or another—can be found without too much trouble.

At one school, though, there’s always a problem filling the role of facilities coordinator, which requires a parent to act as a liaison between the people in charge of the school grounds, the teaching staff, and the parents. This position is so unpopular that for the past few years, the school has had to hold a lottery every autumn whereby the “winner” gets to take on the thankless task for the next 10 months. But when one parent pulled out the lucky ticket, she was so upset that rather than buckling up and “volunteering” for the job, she pulled her kids out and put them in a different school instead.

So don’t take those parentl volunteers for granted. And if you think you’re always seeing the same faces organizing an array of events, try to join them. Remember too that there are parents that really do want to pitch in more, but simply cannot work it into their already overwhelming schedule. 

Robin Ferrier May 29, 2012 at 02:13 PM
While I think it's great when parents can volunteer -- and think any that can, should -- it seems crazy to me that a school can mandate a parent volunteer time... how does that work exactly? And what happens if a parent says no and refuses to pay?
Greg Cohen May 29, 2012 at 04:23 PM
It does seem crazy, Robin. I know growing up in MCPS schools this was never a requirement, although for many athletic teams parents were required to assist in some fashion with snack shacks or booster club activities.
Shihoko Goto May 29, 2012 at 06:31 PM
At the school I wrote about, volunteering obligations are made clear even at open house, and the fee will be added onto the tuition at the end of the year. If you can't volunteer and don't want to pay, you can always opt to go elsewhere. I know though that it puts a lot of pressure under a great deal of emotional pressure to commit time.

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